AS ANDRE WARD CONTINUES TO RECOVER FROM SHOULDER SURGERY, HIS TRAINER VIRGIL HUNTER SPOKE TO LIVEFIGHT, IN THE FIRST OF A TWO PART INTERVIEW, ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP, WARD’S CAREER SO FAR AND THE UPCOMING REMATCH BETWEEN CARL FROCH AND MIKKEL KESSLER.
Virgil Hunter has been placed with two very different challenges in the months and years ahead, the first being to develop and control the continued domination of Andre Ward at 168lbs and beyond. Since his arrival in the inaugural Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009, flawless has best described the Californian’s progress in those four years.
The other sees the management of a second rehabilitation programme for Amir Khan. Once, the world was at his feet. Twice it has crumbled beneath him. Despite the new team scoring one win already (against Carlos Molina) fragility surrounds the Brit’s long term future.
The Hunter-Ward relationship was born in the early 90s and is as close as it was way back when the potential of the American superstar was witnessed at just eleven years old.
“He was a special talent from that point, no doubt. His ring IQ was already there, all he had to make sure was that the drive was still there. And it’s still there every day,” said Hunter when speaking over the phone from America.
The art of hitting and not getting hit was what Andre’s father, Frank, wanted for his son. Although he passed away in 2002, the young Ward would not be without such a crucial parental figure in his life. That role, as well as being elected godfather, would be bestowed upon Hunter. A responsibility that has filled him with pride ever since. A crucial balance has been found however between being guardian and trainer. As Hunter explains, he can ‘let him go when it comes to boxing.’
“Andre went into the most important fight of his career against [Carl] Froch with a broken hand. We got on with it. We got that hand wrapped up and told him to go out and win the fight. In a situation like that, he’s experienced for something like that not to affect him.
“I’m his godfather and yes it goes deeper than just being his coach, I’m the father in his life. He’s like a son to me. It’s been life long and it’ll carry on that way for the rest of our lives. But I can separate myself from being his coach and the father figure.”
Andre, known as ‘Son of God’, has things right in his life according to Hunter: God
first and family second. Each man does not beg for the spotlight. Their words are as effective as their work. What you see is what you get. Shouting from the rooftops can be saved for others. A natural love for the fight game is what exists. Expectations are high and expectations have been delivered.
“Everything that he’s done so far is what we’ve expected of him. The boxing world hasn’t seen what he’s really capable of but those days are coming so everything so far has been pretty much expected,” said Hunter when giving an assessment of Ward’s career to date.
“We’ve only seen about 70% of what Andre can do and in no way is he the complete product. It’s a shame he got the hand injury before the Froch fight because we were intent on stopping him. We were intent on stopping [Arthur] Abraham too but the referee was all wrong in that fight. Again that was another dominant performance; he’s proven he’s the best at super middleweight.”
Every test that has been thrown his way has been passed by Ward, a look around shows very little by way of a genuine threat to the 28 year old. Business at super middleweight has been taken care of. Opposition is now thin on the ground. Revisiting former foes may prove to be the only choice in the next 12 to 18 months. Frustration enters Hunter’s voice when the matter is discussed. The now cancelled fight with Kelly Pavlik was “deserved” as much as a Yusaf Mack fight was for Froch, according to him.
“A fight with Pavlik would’ve been a tougher fight than Mack but at least Carl’s paid his dues.”
Hunter now sees a once hungry pack that looked to teach his young buck a thing or two shying away from a man seemingly unbeatable.
“It’s kinda funny. He holds plenty of belts; he’s the pound for pound number two fighter and no-one wants to fight him! There’s nobody anxious out there to fight him. If he’d lost then that’s a different situation. Other fighters know now. When he was coming up, they were saying he hadn’t been tested, he hadn’t been pushed and there had been no dog fight. They were all thinking when do we go and get him? They best be thinking long and hard because he’s getting better and stronger all the time,” warned Hunter.
Despite the subjects of Froch and Kessler, their rematch in London on May 25th certainly has Hunter’s attention. He believes his own man is on another planet to these two A-list members of the world scene. And who can blame him? Both were outclassed in their trips to America during the Super Six. Both returned with their tails between their legs. Two and four years on, respectively, and a lot has changed for two of the sport’s most violent fighters.
“Carl’s boxing has emerged recently. Mikkel hasn’t really done anything since he was injured. He’s not beaten anyone. Carl demolished [Lucian] Bute at least,” said Hunter when discussing one of the year’s most eagerly awaited fights.
“The Froch-Kessler rematch is a train wreck of a fight,” he continued.
“But let me tell you now, no matter how much these guys say how tough they are or how they sell it no-one likes to get hit. It’s a fight for fans who like collisions, cars falling off buildings because there won’t be too much skill involved. I’m definitely going to watch, I might even personally show up!”
And Hunter had this message for whichever man has their hand raised at the end.
“We’re hoping that these European cry babies will step up to the plate or keep his [Ward] name out of their mouths. I don’t expect Kessler to step up. I’d like Andre to knock Kessler out because in the first fight he battered him without doing that. Froch has a bit more guts than Kessler. And if Froch beats Kessler we expect them to want to fight us before he looks at going into retirement. And if he does then we can sit down and talk.”
IN THE SECOND AND FINAL PART OF THIS INTERVIEW, HUNTER DISCUSSES THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF HIS LATEST ADDITION AMIR KHAN, DEALING WITH THE SPOTLIGHT AND WARD VS. CALZAGHE!